I’m having a slow pint with my buddy.
The grandson has had me plagued all day, wanting to check on his Spongebob tattoo. My fingers are raw from doing and undoing the buttons of my shirt. What happened was, I’d had to have the hair shaved off my chest when I was getting the tattoo done on Christmas Eve, and the hair has started to grow back. It’s grey, like, and it made Spongebob look like he’d died in the night. The poor kid cried when he saw it and he told his mammy – my daughter – that I’d murdered Spongebob.
-G’anda ’urder ’Pungebob!
-I didn’t touch Spongebob, I said.
The women looked at me like I was Jimmy Savile, so now I’m having to shave my chest twice a day. I’m standing in front of the mirror, and I’ve cut myself twice already – poor oul’ Spongebob is bleeding to death. I’m half-thinking of carving him out and just giving him to the child in a plastic bag, when the text arrives.
So here we are.
-I’ve made a new year’s resolution, my buddy tells me.
This is unusual. We don’t go in for that kind of shite – resolutions and birthdays and that. So something’s up. I’m beginning to wish I was back in the bathroom skinning Spongebob.
-A resolution? I say.
-Yeah, he says. –I’ve decided. From now on, I’m going to be honest.
I know he’s looking at me, but I’m staring at my pint. He’s going to say something – I know he is – something embarrassing or sad. He’s my friend and all but I’m hoping to Christ he sticks to the football.
But he doesn’t.
-I identify as a woman, he says.
And now I look at him. He’s 60 or so, same as myself.
-But, I say. –Like – you’re a man.
-I know, he says.
-You’re dressed the same as always.
-You’re drinking a pint.
-And you’re telling me you’re a woman?
-I didn’t say that, he says. –I said I identify as a woman.
I’m not as shocked as I think I probably should be – and that, in itself, is a bit of a shock. I think my buddy here is after telling me he wishes he was a woman. But I don’t seem to care that much. I’m tempted to pat him on the back but I’m worried I’ll feel a bra strap under his hoodie.
-What’s it mean? I ask him. –Exactly - that you identify as a woman.
We’re not shouting, by the way. This is a very quiet conversation.
-I’m not sure, he says. -But I heard it on the radio and I just thought to myself, ‘That’s me.’ It felt right.
-And tell us, I say. –Are you a lesbian?
-Cos it would probably be handier if you were.
-How would it? he asks.
-When we talk about women.
-We never talk about women.
-If we did, I say. -If a good looking woman walked in now, say. We could both agree on that. It’d be nice.
He shrugs – exactly the same way he’s been shrugging for the twenty-five years I’ve known him. He tells me not to tell anyone and I promise him I won’t. But I tell the wife. I’m a bit lost, and in need of a bit of guidance.
-A good buddy of mine says he identifies as a woman, I tell her.
-Which one? the wife asks me.
-He wishes to remain anonymous, I say.
-Is it - ?
And she names him.
-Good Jesus, I say. -How did you know?
-Ah, well, she says, and then the grandson comes in, wanting to assess Spongebob. So that’s that until later, when we’re up in the bed.
The wife has a theory. His wife – my pal’s wife, like – died a while back, three years or so. Maybe more – I don’t trust myself with time anymore. Anyway, she says – my wife – that he misses her.
-Yeah, I agree. –That’s true.
-And maybe he misses her more than he’d miss himself, she says.
-It’s just a theory, she says.
When she says that – and she says it a good bit, especially since she did that Open University yoke a few years back. But when she says it – it’s just a theory – you know it isn’t just anything. It’s gospel.
-Fair enough, I say. -That makes sense – sort of. But why’s he after telling me?
-Well, you’re his friend, she says. –You should be pleased.
And I am. And a bit sad. And – I don’t tell her this – a bit excited.
-What about you? she says.
She shifts in the bed and I know there’s a big question coming.
-If I go before you, will you identify as a woman?
I keep staring at my book.
-I’d like a sports question, please.